Have Meals Lost Their Appeal?

You know that you should eat, but you're not hungry. Even foods that you usually can't resist hold no appeal. Is it normal for your appetite to drop off like this?

Having little interest in food once in a while is probably nothing to worry about. "But, any time you have a loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss for more than a couple of weeks, you should check in with your doctor," advises Michael Fleming, M.D., chairman of the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians. You may not be getting enough nutrients, which can affect your health.

Common causes

Your loss of appetite may be because of several possible reasons:

  • Anxiety or depression. "Grief or a life change that brings on depression is one of the most common reasons for appetite loss. Some people just lose the urge to eat when they're upset," says Dr. Fleming. If you're depressed, treatment can help with symptoms and restore your appetite, too. Seek help if you've been feeling sad, anxious, irritable or discouraged for more than a couple of weeks.

  • Age. As you grow older, you don't need to eat as much. Your sense of smell and ability to taste diminish, too. Poorly fitting dentures or tooth or gum problems also can interfere with chewing—and your appetite.

  • Medications. Some allergy medicines, cold remedies, antibiotics, and prescription painkillers can affect appetite. So can some medicines for high blood pressure, lung or heart conditions, or thyroid disease. But, don't stop taking any medication before talking with your doctor. Sometimes a simple adjustment to your dosage or changing to another medication is all that's needed.

  • Health concerns. Cancer and its treatment, an infection, some gastrointestinal disorders, morning sickness, or the eating disorder anorexia nervosa also may help explain a lack of desire for food.

  • Other possibilities. If you live alone, you may not feel like making meals for yourself. Or, perhaps a limited income keeps you from preparing favorite recipes.

Helpful tips

Get a complete checkup by your health care provider. If you have a medical problem that's causing your appetite to fall off, get treatment. If your health is okay, then try these tips:

  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day.

  • Keep nutritious, appealing foods handy.

  • Try homemade smoothies with milk, fruit and a little bran.

  • Save beverages for after meals. Drinking before a meal can fill you up.

  • Eat meals with others, if possible.

  • Consider Meals on Wheels or a similar local program.

Serious health issues, such as an eating disorder or a medical or psychological problem require ongoing medical care. With help, you can get back your appetite.

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